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PÉREZ, JOVITA

PÉREZ, JOVITA (1897–1970). Jovita Pérez, the first Hispanic woman (and possibly the first woman) in Texas to hold a United States customs broker license, was born in Randado, Texas, on March 18, 1897. Pérez was the second of five daughters born to Tomás and Juanita Pérez. She spent her earliest years in Randado but later moved to Laredo, where she lived most of her life. Pérez attended Central Elementary School in Laredo and often accompanied her father–a traveling merchant–on his trips along the Rio Grande and Eagle Pass Railway route. While some sources indicate that she never completed formal schooling beyond the sixth grade, others claim that she later attended a business college in San Antonio, Texas, in her late teens or early twenties. 

Pérez entered the customs house business about 1918 when she learned of a vacancy created by the departure of a female employee at the Mexican customs house brokerage firm of A. Grimwood. She applied multiple times and was eventually hired as a filing clerk. Within about a year, Pérez was promoted to railroad train dispatcher. She subsequently worked for the customs firm of Brennan and Corrigan, where she eventually became a manager. 

Pérez received her own importation license while working at Brennan and Corrigan in 1928. One of her first major clients was Antonio Ferráiz, a wholesale fruit importer from Mexico who sought an import letter of credit to clear a shipment of bananas by rail from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, to San Antonio, Texas. The successful shipment resulted in a lucrative business relationship for the pair.

In 1939 Pérez opened her own import business, Jovita Pérez U.S. Customs House Brokerage, with a $2,000 loan from Laredo National Bank. As partners, she chose her nephews Daniel B. Hastings, Sr., and Albert Hastings. Pérez also made it a practice to regularly hire female employees, including Lydia Garza, Baudelia García, Juanita Durán, and Ofelia Salinas, who dedicated thirty years of service to the firm. During World War II, Pérez’s company imported unassembled military goods and Mexican guayule rubber, among other things, and was tasked with expediting shipments of certain raw materials deemed “essential” to the Allied war effort. After the war Pérez and her nephews opened a second office in the port city of Brownsville, where they began to handle international seaborne shipments of petroleum products and other goods from companies like Pemex.

Pérez was also quite involved in local politics of Laredo. A committed Democrat, she helped finance political groups (primarily ones formed in opposition to the Independent Club), penned speeches, organized political rallies, and was friend to public figures such as Tomás M. Rodríguez, Ralph W. Yarborough, and federal judge Reynaldo Garza. She also served on the executive committee of the Laredo Property Owners Association. 

Pérez did not marry or have any children. She died in Laredo on June 16, 1970, and was buried at Calvary Catholic Cemetery. It would be decades before another Tejana obtained a United States customs broker license. Control of her business was transferred to her nephew, Daniel B. Hastings, Sr., and it continued to expand as Daniel B. Hastings, Inc. In 2017 the company had offices in five Texas cities and was one of the largest customs brokerage firms on the Texas-Mexico border. The Daniel B. Hastings, Inc. Endowment was established in her memory at Texas A&M International University in 1997.  

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Teresa Palomo Acosta and Ruth Winegarten, Las Tejanas: 300 Years of Texas History (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003). Maria de la Luz Rodríguez Cárdenas, "Jovita Pérez," Mexican Americans in Texas History Conference (San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1991). LMTBusiness Journal, February 26, 2001.

Marta Ortiz

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Handbook of Texas Online, Marta Ortiz, "PÉrez, Jovita ," accessed October 20, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpeqy.

Uploaded on July 18, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.